Odd Recipe. Delicious Cookie.

Recently I had quite a number of cookbooks at home from the library. It was overwhelming, in a good way. Knowing how much my husband loves cookies, I gave him American Cookie by Anne Byrn and asked him to find at least one unusual recipe for me to try. In just minutes he was asking “Have you ever heard of Forgotten Chocolate Cookies?” What? How could a chocolate cookie be forgettable? I just cannot believe that but all was revealed when we read the blurb provided by Byrn.

Forgotten Cookies were named after the baking method for these old fashioned meringue-type delights, not due to the fact that the cookies were so mediocre that they were forgettable. Bakers “back in the day” used to start baking these cookies, then turn off the oven, leaving the cookies inside as the oven cooled. This would dry the cookies and give them the light but chewy texture they are known for.

91JRXYpGxoLApparently there are a myriad of methods of making “Forgotten Cookies”. Some require additional steps like beating the egg whites separately until a certain consistency before adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. The method shared by Byrn, almost an all-in-one, is super easy, seems strange (the method will seem so wrong but it is so right) and the resulting dough is unlike any cookie dough I am familiar with. However, bear with it and you will end up with some amazing, light, rich, super-chocolatey decadent cookies.

I also made a batch of Victorian Ginger Drop Cakes for my colleagues. This tea cake recipe was adapted by Byrn from one featured in Victoria Cakes by Caroline B. King, published in 1941. A contributor to various women’s magazines, King was also the lead US Army dietician in France during WWI. These drop cakes were a favourite from her childhood. The ingredients would vary depending on what her mother had in the pantry.

A colleague of mine, Kerstin, also borrowed American Cookie. Kerstin tried two recipes: the “Joe Frogger” and “The Cowboy Cookie”.  The former is an “adult” gingerbread cookie with rum, although she thought brandy with a sprinkling of sugar on top would be a wonderful alternative. The dough for the Cowboy Cookies was very dry so Kerstin ended up hand-shaping them into mounds rather than using a cookie dough scoop. The cookies held their shape when baked and tasted like a more decadent version of a granola bar.

I really liked Ann Byrn’s book and both Kerstin and myself especially enjoyed the morsels of history shared alongside each recipe. Not only is there a wonderful selection of recipes to choose from, you’ll learn a bit of American food history along the way.

  • Sandi H.

About Those Cookie Sheets

“When I was baking the Joe Frogger cookies I noticed that in the instructions Byrn advised bakers to let the cookie sheets/pans cool before putting more cookie dough onto them. Because I didn’t want to have to wait between batches, I rotated bakes between two different types of cookie sheets. Doing this allowed me to discover that my preferred, insulated cookie sheet is actually not ideal for baking cookies because it takes too long to bake them!  The cookies didn’t rise at all, look anemic and almost tasted raw. In comparison, the cookies that were baked on a traditional, single layer cookie sheet were absolutely lovely. Something to keep in mind when buying your next cookie sheet.”  — Kerstin

Forgotten Chocolate Cookies

2 ¼ c icing sugar
½ c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp corn starch
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 c finely chopped pecans

Place rack in centre of oven. Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In large bowl combine icing sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Add egg whites and beat on low to incorporate into the dry ingredients. Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute or until well combined. Stir in vanilla and pecans.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet…only 8 per sheet as the cookie spread a lot.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes until shiny and firm on the outside but a little soft inside. Let the cookies cool for 2 minutes on the pan then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve or store in airtight containers at room temperature for a week or freeze for up to 3 months.

Back to School…Pastry School

Le Cordon Bleu. Well. What do you think of when you hear those three words? A master chef? A piece of chicken stuffed with cheese and ham or bacon? France? Julia Child? I probably think a bit of all of these but more high standards, super high kitchen skill levels and, where a cookbook is concerned, complicated.

So why, do you ask, did I lug home (well, drove home…I didn’t want to drag this thing on the ION!) the heavy, 500 page copy of Le Cordon Bleu Pastry School from the library? Partly as a challenge to myself. Definitely in the hopes of learning something new. And yes, I was wooed by the beautiful photos (check out the mirror glaze on the cake on page 252) and the elegance of this new cookbook.

I have to say I was pretty excited on my first look through. So many delicious sounding and looking baked goods. Pastries, yes, but also cookies and desserts. Where should I begin?

On closer inspection the first thing I discovered is that a lot of the recipes I was tempted by would require me to go shopping for critical ingredients. As I delved further into the cookbook, that shopping list was going to expand to purchasing new equipment, baking tins etc. Now, as much as I like trying new recipes, I’m not the type to buy a special tin to make a one-off recipe. Nope.

So, my ambitious “to try” list had to be edited down to a more reasonable (practical? economical?) level. I started off with a lemon pound cake. I do not have mini loaf tins so I made it as one large cake and that worked out just fine. Easy to make, moist and delicious, this was all starting out on a high. The Black Forest Gateau and the Chocolate Berry Cake were very tempting but I’m going to hold off until a dinner party with family or friends to give them a go.

The chocolate marble cakes once again required a special tin so I opted instead for “individual” (they’re too big to be “individual”, really) bundt cakes. I didn’t get the swirl right so ended up more with two-tone cakes than marbled. The cake was dense and rich; more than the pound cake was actually. For presentation, I piped whipped cream on the cakes and added slices of mandarin oranges. They looked pretty fabulous and tasted good although a bit heavy for my liking.

cordon bleu 004The final recipe I tried was my favourite. They were a sandwich-style cookie made with ground almonds and glued together with chocolate ganache. The dough and the ganache came together easily. Whilst they didn’t look like the photo in the book, they did look very good. Colour was even, nice flavour and that ganache. Yum!

So, while I may not have invested in new equipment, perfected my piping or attempted a macaronnade or entremets, I do not feel defeated. I took out a Cordon Bleu cookbook, made a few items with very good result and have two in hand for the future. I’d say that’s très bon.

  • Sandi H.

Sandwich Style Chocolate Biscuits

Ganache (make this the night before!)

200 grams / 1.6 cups chocolate (65% cocoa)
225 ml cream
22 grams glucose (I used 4 tsp of white corn syrup instead)
35 grams butter / 2.5 tblsp butter

Dough

120 grams / ½ c butter, softened
25 grams / ¼ c ground almonds (I used a little less than ¼ c)
65 grams / ½ c icing sugar (a generous ½ cup)
2 grams / ½ tsp salt
1 egg
200 grams / 1.6 cups all purpose flour

For the ganache, chop chocolate and place in glass bowl. Heat cream until just below boiling. Remove from heat and mix in glucose/syrup. Pour the hot liquid over the chocolate and mix well with whisk. Mix in the butter. Cover with cling film and let stand at room temperature overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Cream butter, almonds, icing sugar and salt together. Mix in egg and then flour to make a smooth dough. Roll out on lightly floured baking board until 4mm thickness.

Cut into medium-sized circles (or whatever shape is your preference), approximately 20 cookies. Take 10 of the cookie, and cut out a small circle or heart in the middle. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are light golden brown. Set on cooling rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cookies, spread ganache on the solid disks. Place the biscuits with the cut out on top. Press together lightly to encourage “sealing”. Let sit to stabilize.

These cookies will stay fresh for at least a week if stored in an airtight container.

The ganache can be stored in a glass jar, tightly sealed, in the fridge. It made an excellent glaze for baked chocolate donuts a week later…but that’s for another review!

Bring on the Dishes!

I have never had a dishwasher. Growing up, my sister and I WERE the dishwasher in our house. When I flew the nest, I opted for extra storage space in my little kitchen over having another large appliance in the room. And to be honest, I don’t mind washing dishes. I’m not a huge fan of drying (usually my husband does that chore) but washing dishes, not a big deal at all.

Having a small kitchen, you learn to be efficient and organized in meal prep. An “A type” personality, I can quite happily make a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings and bake a dessert at the same time without my limited counter space and single sink teeming with cookware, bowls etc.

I don’t know if it’s because of being able to neatly “juggle” or something else entirely but I’ve just never been drawn to crockpots, instant-pots or one-pan meals. I know they are super popular all year round and must be quite handy in the hot days of summer, especially with those who do not have a/c at home. Perhaps if I had a big family to feed I’d be more welcoming to anything that is dish-saving and time-saving but I don’t, so while instant-pots seem to be in every home, there isn’t one in mine which means I’m unable to review any of those specific cookbooks at WPL. On the heels of the Instant-pot craze, though, it seems that one-dish cookbooks have regained their popularity. That I can do.

The first one I borrowed was One Pan, Whole Family : more than 70 complete weeknight meals by Carla Snyder. There were a number of interesting recipes between the covers and for the most part the instructions looked straight forward. The majority of the recipes take 45 minutes or less to prepare. The down side, the recipes I was most intrigued by would require me to make a return trip to the grocery store for key ingredients. So, I made a few “notes to self” and may revisit this book at a future date.

The second was 13 x 9 The Pan That Can : 150 fabulous recipes by Better Homes & Gardens.  As they describe it, the 13 x 9 (or 9 x 13) pan is “… the star of the kitchen, able to produce just about any dish from one-pan dinners to an easy big-batch dessert.” and the cookbook reflects this with recipes for all sorts of dinners, pizzas, breakfast bakes, bars and more. Nutritional information is provided for each recipe as well as ideas on making the recipes more healthy plus make ahead tips and “flex it” advice which is practical suggestions on how to make the recipe meatless, incorporate leftovers and more.

I tried two recipes from “13 x 9 The Pan That Can”. First up, Lemon Chicken With Potatoes. One of my favourite recipes of all time is the “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten’s roast chicken with lemon and lots of garlic. It’s a winner…always delicious and juicy. So, this seemed similar but different. The only change I made to the recipe was eliminating the olives (my husband is decidedly anti-olive) and it turned out quite good. Not as good as Ina’s if I’m honest, but tasty enough to make again. For dessert I tried the Bananas Foster Bake. Bananas, rum, oat streusel topping. What’s not to like? Wellll…we had a mixed result here. My husband absolutely loved it and went back for seconds. Me, I wasn’t impressed with the flavour or the mixture of textures and didn’t even finish my portion.

Odd as it may sound, in the end I’d be more likely to recommend One Pan, Whole Family with its many mouthwatering-sounding recipes over 13 x 9. The recipes in 13 x 9 just didn’t wow me and the results of my test recipes were mixed. But you borrow them from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Lemon Chicken and Potatoes

4 chicken breast halves, fresh or thawed
1 lb fingerling or baby Yukon potatoes
3 lemons, halves crosswise
1/3 c. pitted green and/or black olives
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp honey
6 c arugula or mixed salad greens

Preheat oven to 450F.

Place chicken, potatoes, lemons and olives in ungreased 9 x 13/3 quart casserole. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and toss to coat.

Rearrange chicken in a single layer, skin side up, and lemons cut-side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rose uncovered for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Remove from oven. Remove lemons from casserole. Cover chicken/potatoes/olives with foil to keep warm.

When lemons are cool enough to handle, squeeze juice in to small bowl. Remove any seeds. Whisk in 4 tbsp olive oil and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve chicken and potatoes over greens. Drizzle with lemon dressing.

Facing My Fear

“Limits, like fear, are often an illusion.” – Michael Jordan

I once had a tragic happening in my kitchen that scarred me for life. Well. Okay. That’s me being overly dramatic but it was a baking fail that I’ve never forgotten or confronted, until now.

Many years ago (and that, actually, isn’t an exaggeration) I attempted to make bread. Not bread machine bread. Real bread. From scratch. I found a recipe for French bread in a long-forgotten cookbook borrowed from the library. It was, apparently, suitable for beginners and that was me!

I don’t remember the process but I do remember that the dough rose okay for the first proofing, almost no second rise, and the result was bread that would have only been suitable for anchoring a small boat. I was so put off by that failure that I never made anything using yeast again.

My personal opinion (or excuse, if you prefer) was that a person needed to have a certain touch to make bread, or pastry for that matter. Then I recently saw “Bake It Better : Sweet Buns & Breads” by Linda Collister on the new book display at the library.

I took a quick flick through. It’s divided into three sections: Easy Does It, Needs a Little Skill, and Up for a Challenge. I immediately saw a number of recipes in the easy section that I’d love to try. So, I took a deep breath, checked the book out and decided to face my fear!

I started off with something that was a bread but didn’t involve yeast: scones. I love scones (and prefer when it is pronounced so that it rhymes with “yawns”, thanks very much) and have a good recipe courtesy of my Mum. The Bake It Better recipe has just 6 ingredients and a basic method. I didn’t have any buttermilk so went with their recommended substitute of a milk and yogurt combination. The scones were fantastic! And just in case you think I’m dissing the family recipe, my Mum tried them as well and concurred. She loved them as much as I did. That recipe is going to become a standard in our home.

IMG_20190406_1955158Then it was time to try…yeast. I liked the look of the Devonshire Splits. They are small rolls with a soft crumb served split in half and filled with cream and jam. How could you not like the look of that? I followed the step-by-step instructions carefully and appreciated the images shared as well as advice on kneading. Imagine my surprise when the dough rose beautifully. I knocked it down with my knuckles, divided the dough, shaped it and, like magic, it rose again. I was ridiculously excited. I think my husband thought I was losing my mind (again). Fifteen minutes later and they were out of the oven and looked exactly like the photo in the book. They tasted divine even without the cream and jam. Soft crumb, lightly sweetened and truly, it was hard to eat just one!

With new found confidence I also made hot cross buns and a milk and honey loaf. Both recipes turned out really well. I was elated and amazed. I am now a happy baker of bread and am looking forward to the day when I graduate to “Needs a Little Skill” and “Up for a Challenge”!

I will note that one minor downfall of this little British cookbook is the measurements being listed in grams and millilitres. A previous borrower had actually penned the conversions to cups right in the margin, a practice we don’t support here at the library of course but unfortunately it does happen. My suggestion: just use an online converter on your favourite device. No pen required.

  • Sandi H.

Devonshire Splits

400 grams strong white bread flour plus extra for dusting
6 grams salt
1 tsp sugar
60 grams butter, at room temperature, diced small
1 – 7 gram sachet fast-action dried yeast
250 ml lukewarm milk
Vegetable oil for dusting
Icing sugar for dusting

To serve: clotted or whipped cream and raspberry jam or preserves

DIRECTIONS

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of butter and rub in with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl and thoroughly mix in. Make a well in the centre.

Pour the lukewarm milk into the flour mixture. Work in with your hands until you have a soft dough. If it feels at all dry or crumbly, add in milk (just a tablespoon at a time). If the dough sticks to your hands or the sides of the bowl, add more flour.

Rub a little oil on the worktop. Don’t sprinkle it with flour. Scrape out the dough and knead until very pliable and satiny smooth (10 minutes). Return the dough to bowl. Cover with clingfilm or a snap-on lid. Leave to rise on worktop for 60 minutes or until double in size.

Punch down to deflate dough. Lightly dust work service with flour. Knead once or twice. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Cover with dry tea towel to rest for 5 minutes.

Shape into balls. Set out on lined baking sheet. Slip the sheet into an extra large plastic bag, trapping air inside but making sure that the plastic won’t touch the dough even when it rises again.

Leave the to rise for 45 minutes. The dough will double in size again.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Uncover the buns – they will now be touching – and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

As soon as they are done, set the sheet on a wire rack and sift icing sugar over the top. Carefully slide the rolls onto the cooling rack. Cover them with a dry tea towel and let cool until barely warm.

Uncover and gently pull the buns apart. When ready to serve, slice each ¾ of the way across. Spread with jam and cream. Serve immediately.

Time Flies

When I recently borrowed Cooking for Friends by David Wood, I received a shock. I remember the first David Wood cookbook I borrowed. Not his iconic Food Book but, unsurprisingly for those who know me or read my blog posts, The Dessert Book. I could even recall the cover, which featured an amazing-looking strawberry pie which I proceed to make and, yes, it tasted amazing too.

Seeing a new book by David Wood on the shelves, I just had to borrow it. The shock came when I realized it was 30 years (!!) since his Dessert Book was published which meant 30 years has passed since I made that bit of strawberry bliss! How is that possible when I’m barely over 30 myself? 😉 I even visited Wood’s gourmet food shop in Toronto once and treated myself to some decadent goodies.

Wood was born and raised in post-war Scotland where food was rationed and was viewed as something to fuel the body rather than rhapsodize over. As a young adult, Wood honed his cooking skills and his tastes became, like most people, more refined as he matured. Moving to Canada in 1973, he opened the first of three gourmet food shops 1984. A catering business and two cookbooks soon followed. In the 1990s, following some tough times including the closure of his shops, Wood left Toronto for the warmer climes of BC and in 1996 opened Salt Spring Island Cheese Company after “…six years of trial and error on the farm and in the kitchen.”

As Wood says in the Introduction to “Cooking for Friends” (which is worth reading, as is the forward), “…the best thing about food is that it brings us together with friends and family (who are also friends) – it eases conversations and opens our hearts and minds…” This cookbook is about creating delicious, satisfying and attractive food at home, without needing the skills of a professional chef.

I chose to make just one sweet (although the Pear and Ginger Galette will definitely be on the menu at my house at a future family get together), a starter and two mains. The dessert recipe I tried was Lemon Possets. The recipe contains just 3 ingredients but the result is a smooth, citrusy custard that is just divine. You can decorate the possets with a raspberry or two and some lemon zest or just eat as is. Wood’s Chicken Wonderful is, well, wonderful! He recommends serving it with salad and a baguette but we opted for a mixture of steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Easy and scrumptious. I could happily eat this once a week.

The Spicy Garlic Shrimp would be a wonderful starter but the night I made it we enjoyed the shrimp as a main, perched atop my own un-fried vegetable fried rice. My favourite of the four recipes tried though was the Tagliatelle with Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Chives. This dish looked and tasted amazing even though I substituted a mixture of sour cream and yogurt for the crème fraiche. Served with a glass of chilled Oyster Bay chardonnay from New Zealand it was a treat on a weeknight. Yes, easy enough to make at the end of the work day.

Cooking for Friends would be a wonderful addition to any collection. This Canadian cookbook features beautiful photos, an excellent selection of recipes and clear, concise directions. Two whisks up from me!

— Sandi H.

Tagliatelle with Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Chives

2 egg yolks
2 c. crème fraiche (or try a yogurt/sour cream substitute like I did!)
½ c grated Parmesan
¼ c chopped fresh chives
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tblsp chopping Italian parsley + some for garnish
12 oz boneless fresh salmon fillet
1 tsp salt
1 lb. fresh tagliatelle

In a small bowl beat together yolks, ½ c of the crème fraiche, Parmesan, chives, zest, pepper and parsley. Set aside.

In a pot big enough to hold the cooked, drained pasta, bring the remained 1 ½ c. crème fraiche to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer.

Carefully cut the salmon into 1/4” slices, then cut the slices across into strips, each about the size of 4 matchsticks tied together. Set aside.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Drain when done, reserving 1 c of the cooking water.

Transfer the pasta to the large pot containing the warmed crème fraiche and stir to coat. Add in the egg yolk mixture and stir to combine. Use cooking liquid as need to prevent the pasta from drying out or the sauce from becoming too thick. Add salmon and stir very gently to avoid breaking up the fish. The heat from the pasta will cook the thin strips of salmon perfectly.

Note: I chose to bake the salmon whole and serve the tagliatelle on the side.

salmon_blog

It’s Genius

I recently borrowed Food 52’s latest cookbook, Genius Desserts : 100 recipes that will change the way you bake. After reading it through and trying 3 different recipes, I can’t say it has changed the way I bake BUT the recipes are certainly genius. Each one was awesome and I’ve already made a list of others that I want to try out.

Food52 is an award-winning kitchen and home brand. Established almost 10 years ago, their mandate is to help followers “…eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.” They have an extensive team behind the scenes led by CEO and Co-Founder, Amanda Hesser. She herself has written a few books including Cooking for Mr. Latte : A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes, The Cook and the Gardener, and The Essential New York Times Cookbook. The Food52 website won a James Beard award and with over 4 million followers on social media, I think I am not alone in being pleased with the look of their books and online presence as well as being very satisfied with the recipe results.

The content shared in print and online by Food 52 is a mix of food, cooking, design, culture, and travel. The recipes shared are from talented home cooks as well as celebrity chefs like Nigella Lawson, Jacques Pépin, and Madhur Jaffrey.

food 52 004The first recipes I tried were for cookies: Dorie Greenspan & Pierre Herme’s “World Peace Cookies” and Julia Moskin’s “Peanut Butter Sandies”. I decided to bring them to the library for staff to taste test. While both plates emptied quickly, the World Peace Cookies were the hands down winners. Comments included “Those chocolate cookies are the best!”, “Nice texture and not over-the-top chocolatey.” and “The World Peace cookie was very good. I didn’t find it too sweet and the addition of chocolate chips was a pleasant surprise.” That recipe is a keeper!

Next up was “One Step, No Churn Coffee Ice Cream” by a favourite of mine, Nigella Lawson. I do have a Pampered Chef Ice Cream Maker (which is amazing, btw) but I was intrigued by this no-frills recipe. There are just 4 ingredients and the only equipment needed is an electric mixer and a freezer. Basically, you just beat the ingredients together until airy, place the mixture in a container with an airtight lid and freeze overnight. The resulting ice cream is SUPER rich and decadent which means you don’t need to eat very much to be satisfied. I’d definitely try this again with some other flavours.

I have plans to make the Guinness Stout Ginger Cake next although I will be skipping the Parsley Cake on the page that precedes it. Parsley Cake aside, there are plenty just begging to be tried: Pistachio Millionaire’s Shortbread with Coriander Butterscotch, Weird & Wonderful Banana Cake (which sounds just that!) and Butterscotch Budino to name but three.

Embrace your inner genius. Borrow this book. Give the recipes a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Sandi H.

P.S. after writing this post I did make the Stout Spice Gingerbread and it was out of this world. It’s going to become a staple in our household.

World Peace Cookies

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ c plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
¼ c. granulated sugar
½ tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
¾ c mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer.

Pour in the dry ingredients and mix at low speed just until flour is mixed in.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 ½  inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — let it warm just enough so that you can slice the log into rounds and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease baking sheets. Remove dough from fridge. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.

Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be.

Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Perfection is Hard to Live Up To

I recently borrowed a book from the library called The Perfect Cake. It’s part of a series from America’s Test Kitchen which includes The Perfect Cookie, which I reviewed already. Four hundred pages of cake recipes, some simple, some rather more involved, and all looking divine in the many (many, many) photos.

Like other ATK books, The Perfect Cake starts out with some fundamental information on baking. Among other things there are handy tips on preparing the pan properly (nothing worse than baking a wonderful cake only to discover that you can NOT get it neatly out of the baking tin), checking for done-ness, types of frosting and advice on essential utensils and equipment for a baker’s kitchen. There is also a chapter on “Cake Building Blocks” which walks new bakers through basic ingredients.

As they say in the beginning of the book, “Like all baking, cake making is a science but it doesn’t have to be intimidating.” Personally I have always never found baking intimidating. Baking relaxes me, it brings back wonderful family memories and it makes me happy. A colleague once commented that they could tell when my stress level was up because I brought in lots of baked goods to work. Let me be clear, they weren’t complaining about being the recipients of home-baked goodies, they were just kindly concerned with my blood pressure. To me, the most stressful thing about baking is narrowing down what recipes I’m going to try next. That all being said, this cookbook did cause me some stress.

51v9Qmq53aL._SX260_The first couple of recipes I tried were very good. The Easy Chocolate Snack Cake was just that. One bowl + basic ingredients + simple instructions = Tasty Moist Chocolate Cake. I also made the Lemon Bundt Cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. I hadn’t made a bundt cake in years (I can’t really say why) and this one have given me reason to make them more often. Very lemony and with a rich texture similar to a pound cake. It came out of the pan easily and, once cooled, I decorated it with the lemon buttermilk glaze and zest. Two thumbs up from the entire family.

I was thinking, “Wow. This book really IS about perfect cakes.” when things went south with the Strawberry Cupcake recipe. I was taking part in a bake sale in support of the local humane society. The recipe sounded wonderful, using the juice from actually strawberries (reduced to a syrup) for flavouring rather than cheating with artificial products.

I followed the recipe and everything seemed to be going well although the batter was very thin. I triple-checked the recipe quantities and then noticed in the recipe there was a special notation the “…mixture will look soupy”. Fair enough. I divided the batter evenly into the cupcake liners and popped it in the oven for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes.

Nothing happened. No rise. Nothing. When removed from the oven, the cupcakes were flat and with a texture that resembled a sodden sponge. I took a tiny taste and, to be frank, spit it out. And there went my cupcakes, into my green compost bin. Major fail. And on the night before a charity bake sale!

A few bad words and a deep breath later and I quickly whipped up a Hot Milk Cake. This old school recipe used to be in every community cookbook and is one my Mum has used for many years. A short while later I had a baker’s dozen of light, fluffy, vanilla cupcakes. I topped my cupcakes with a strawberry mousse and was able to sell them the following day…and help my colleagues raise over $300 for the KW Humane Society!

In spite of the cupcake fail, I’m still impressed by this cookbook, especially given how delicious the snack and bundt cakes were. I certainly won’t be buying The Perfect Cake but it’s worth a borrow. Just go with your gut instinct if something looks a bit off because it might be time for some improv!

– Sandi H.

Dorothy’s Hot Milk Cake

½ c milk
1 tbsp butter
2 eggs
¾ c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F.

In small saucepan, melt butter in milk. Set aside off heat.

In mixing bowl, beat eggs until thick. Add sugar & vanilla and beat again.

Alternate adding the milk mixture and the dry ingredients, mixing to combine.

Divide between 2 – 8” round cake tins (greased) or 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake passes the toothpick test.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack to cool completely before decorating.

Sweeet!

Let’s play word association. It will be easy. I promise. I say “Redpath”. You say? That’s right. Sugar! The Canada Sugar Refinery was founded in 1854 by John Redpath, a Scottish stonemason, but the business only took on his name in the late 1880s. Orphaned at an early age, Redpath was raised by other family members. By 13 he was an apprentice stonemason and by 20 he had decided to emigrate to Canada.

A hard working, ambitious man, Redpath was able to start his own construction business just 2 years after arriving in Montreal. His company was instrumental in the building of a number of iconic structures in Montreal including the Notre-Dame Basilica. After his death in 1869, two of his sons and a son-in-law took over the business and, in 1880, John Redpath’s signature became the logo for the business…a logo that is used even today.

A1xg9Ud9C0LI absolutely loved The Redpath Canadian Bake Book, from the interesting family history to the tempting photos and wonderful recipes. It was so difficult to pick just one or two to try…so I picked three!

I started out making a half batch of the Soft Oatmeal Cookies. What you might find surprising from a Redpath recipe is that they weren’t particularly sweet. Instead the cookies were nicely spiced and, as promised, soft and chewy. They disappeared almost as soon as I set them on the cooling rack. I also made the Buttery Shortbread on a day when I felt like baking but was lacking in eggs and a couple other key ingredients. The shortbread was delicious, more soft than crunchy, and we absolutely could not stop at just one.

The star of the 3 recipes though was the Chocolate Genoise Cake. I’ve never made a Genoise and this might be partially due to the fact that they have a reputation as being very difficult to make successfully. Get it right and you will have an airy, moist sponge cake. Get it wrong and you will end up with a flat, dense, inedible pancake of a cake.
I followed their instructions exactly and… Oh. My. Goodness. Rich but light, just as tasty without the frosting as with, and the smell…well, I just wish devices offered scratch and sniff!

If you’re looking for a wonderful variety of dessert recipes (and bonus, it’s a Canadian book!) then the Redpath Canadian Bake Book is a must…to borrow or to buy.

— Sandi H.

Redpath Chocolate Genoise Cake

4 large eggs at room temperature
2/3 c granulated sugar
½ c cake and pastry flour
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla
Frosting
2 ½ tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp whole milk
1 ¼ c icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat over to 350F. Great 1 – 8” round baking pan. Set aside.

In large bowl and using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick and falls in ribbons when the beaters are lifted, about 8 minutes. (note: it took me 11 minutes with an electric hand mixer)

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into the egg mixture. Very gently fold in the flour mixture until combined. Slowly fold in the melted butter and vanilla.

Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until the cake springs back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn out onto the wire rack and let cool completely.

For the frosting, in a small microwave-proof bowl combine butter and milk. Microwave on medium power until butter melts, about 30 seconds. In a medium bowl whisk together icing sugar and cocoa powder. Stir in the melted butter mixture and whisk until smooth.

Once the cake has cooled, spread the frost over the top of the cake Let stand 10 to 15 minute or until the icing has set before serving.

Note: the cake can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days

Daisy Cakes

I have always love daisies. They are one of my favourite flowers. Actually, any flower resembling a daisy is a favourite. I love the word, the cheerful vibe, the happy look. I even named my cat Daisy. So a book called “Daisy Cakes Bakes” absolutely had to make its way into my hands.

The story behind Daisy Cakes rests with Kim Nelson. Raised in the South, Nelson grew up eating homemade food created with fresh ingredients from their own land. Eggs from the family’s chickens, veg from their own garden, hand-churned butter, and so on. However, knowing that not everyone enjoyed baking as much as she did, Nelson had an idea.

In 2011, she applied to be on the American TV show, Shark Tank. Nelson made her presentation and secured a $50,000 investment from “shark” and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran. Her idea? Continue to bake her family’s tried-and-true recipes using locally sourced ingredients and then deliver them fresh to homes across the country.

In the first year Daisy Cakes sold more than 25,000 cakes in every state. As her business grew (and encountered a few big bumps along the way) Nelson said that everything, ingredients, baking tins, labels etc. still came from domestic sources. Before “Shark Tank”, the Daisy Cake annual sales were $27,000. By 2017, the number had grown to $5 million. Now that’s impressive…but is the new Daisy Cakes Bakes cookbook as impressive?

The book is nicely designed with inviting images and short, personal stories about each recipe. There are handy tips like “Freezing the cake layers make them much easier to frost. I usually freeze them for 2 to 3 hours, uncovered on a sheet pan. Spreading the frosting over the frozen layers keeps the crumbs out.”

I decided to make a cookie and, of course, a cake recipe. I originally had borrowed the book in the winter so made a partial batch of Nelson’s Gingerbread Cookies to compare with mine. I have a wonderful recipe I have used for years and thought I’d do a “cookie-off”. While the Daisy Cakes cookies were good, mine definitely won the blind taste testing as voted by family and friends.

91Dmq6jxAYLThe second recipe I tried was “Your Signature Coffee Cake”. Coffee Cakes sound a bit retro but they are just wonderful if not too dry or loaded with way-too-much streusel topping. The cake smelled wonderful baking away with its blueberry & strawberry filling. I chose not to do a topping or glaze but probably would do if it was for guests as it is rather plain looking. The Daisy Cakes recipe made one very moist and tasty, can’t-stop-at-one slice cake.

There are quite a few other recipes I’d like to try including the Scotland Orange Cake (although the fact that it takes 9 eggs is a bit off putting), Butter Brickle Cookies (partly just because of the name) and Miss Geraldine’s Italian Cream Cake because the photo looks delectable. Overall, I’d say don’t bother ordering a Daisy Cakes cake (they don’t ship to Canada anyway) just bake it yourself with Kim Nelson’s easy-to-follow recipes. Two whisks up!

  • Sandi H.

Your Signature Coffee Cake

Cake Batter

½ c butter or margarine, room temperature
1 ½ c sugar
2 large eggs
1 c whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

Filling

2 c. fresh blueberries (I used frozen mixed berries)
¼ c brown sugar
1 tblsp fresh lemon juice (my idea…and it was nice!
Zest of 1 lemon

Glaze (optional)

1 ½ c icing sugar
1tblsp whole milk
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 1 – 8 x 8” baking pan. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar on high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in eggs and beat on high for 1 minute. Beat in milk and vanilla.

Add in dry ingredients, on low or stirring in by hand. Combine just until ingredient are all blended together. Set aside.

In food processor or blending combine filling ingredients.

To assemble cake, put 1/3 of batter in pan. Spread evenly. Add 2/3 of the filling. Spread evenly over batter. Top with the rest of the batter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with just a few crumbs on it.

Serving: when the cake is cool, mix the ingredients of the glaze together and pour over the top of the cake. Let sit before serving with some of the fruit filling on the side.

The Perfect Cookie

Gingerbread. No, peanut butter. No, oatmeal. No, shortbread. Okay. Really there are so many “perfect” cookies out there. I’ve hardly ever met a cookie I didn’t like and my waistline is proof of that. But seriously, I take cookies seriously and am actually quite picky when it comes to what cookies (and cookie recipes!) that I would score a perfect 10.

Do you chase perfect recipes? For some things, I do. It took me years, after coming oh-so-close on a number of occasions, to find what I felt was the “perfect” brownie recipe. Same with gingerbread cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip and shortbread. Peanut butter was easy as a neighbour shared an awesome recipe with my Mum back in the early 70s and it is the PB cookie every other is measured by…and usually are found wanting.

Recently America’s Test Kitchen came out with a 400+ page book dedicated to cookies, brownies and bars. Drop cookies. Sandwich cookies. No bakes. Gluten free. You get the idea. If it’s a cookie, it’s in The Perfect Cookie.

As is usual with ATK books, it starts out with a few chapters to help readers prepare to make those perfect cookies properly. Mixing, baking and cooling methods. A list of “essential” equipment. I put “essential” in quotes as I have been baking a variety of cookies for more years than I want to tally up and have never needed to invest in a stand mixer or food processor to have success. The rest of the items on the list though I agree with, all necessities for a happy baking experience. They also offer insight into selecting and storing ingredients and even cookie troubleshooting. These people take cookies seriously too which means we should be a match made in heaven.

The very first recipe in the book is The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. As they say, it’s “…the most iconic American treat.” While chocolate chip cookies aren’t my #1 favourite, a chewy one with just the right balance of chips to cookie dough are pretty darn irresistible. I decided to give this recipe plus the Trail Mix Cookies a try.

For the chocolate chip cookies, the method was a little unusual, melting and browning the butter instead of just creaming it with the sugar. The dough came together quickly and they looked good coming out of the oven. As for the trail mix cookies, they were chock-a-block with oats, whole wheat flour, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pecans and chocolate chips. When baking, they smelled heavenly and looked wonderful, holding their shape.

Instead of asking my husband to be the taste tester (as is tradition) I instead tested the cookies on the Waterloo Wolves Major Midget AAA Hockey Team. These 16 & 17 years old players train and play hard and when they leave the ice, are HUNGRY. That doesn’t mean that they are devoid of tastebuds.

So, can you guess the results? The team was presented with 24 of each cookie. At the end, there were 7 chocolate chip cookies left…and ZERO trail mix. The trail mix cookies easily beat out the “Perfect” chocolate chip cookies.

I did try both myself (of course I did!) and I have to agree with the players. The chocolate chip cookies are definitely good. Would I say they are perfect; the best I’ve ever had? No. Just a good, run-of-the-mill homebaked chocolate chip. The trail mix cookies though had great chew, wonderful flavour and were filling. That recipe will definitely be made in our household again in the future.

Flipping through The Perfect Cookie, I did see lots of recipes to try including Noche Buena Sandwich Cookies with decadent dulce de leche, Key Lime Bars, Applesauce Cookies and Gingerbread Brownies. If the beautiful photos are anything to go by, they should be pretty tasty.

If you’re looking for a good (I won’t say perfect though, because that result is up to the baker) cookie recipe, this is definitely a book worth borrowing.

– Sandi H.

Trail Mix Cookies

1 c old fashioned rolled oats
½ c whole wheat flour
¼ c all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking soda
5 tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 c brown sugar, packed
½ c dried cherries, dried cranberries or raisins
¼ c toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
¼ c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheets.

In medium bowl combine oats, flours, salt, cinnamon and soda. Set aside.

Whisk butter, egg and vanilla together in large bowl. Stir in sugar until smooth. Add in oat mixture, stirring until just combined then stir in fruit, seeds and chips.

Working with 1 tblsp of dough at a time, roll into balls. Place on baking sheets 2” apart.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until edges are set but centres are soft and puffy.

Remove from oven. Let cool on baking sheet 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.